Have Millenials got the right idea?

A new industry has emerged to serve the urgent need to understand millenials: more precisely, to understand their aspirations and the conditions millenials expect regarding their work.  To clarify terminology:  ‘Millenials’ or ‘Generation Y’ are people currently in their 20s to early thirties and ‘Generation X’ comprises people in their mid 30s to late 40s.

Numerous surveys undertaken by the world’s top consulting firms have interrogated the likes, dislikes and expectation s of Millenials as they consider how to make a living. How fair and realistic are the results and their interpretation?

The analysis of surveys by Forbes, Deloitte, PwC, Inc. and others paints a bleak picture of current leadership. Gen X leaders are often typified as autocratic, uncreative people with poor communication skills and no imagination. They are seen as motivated predominantly by corporate profit. Because of this focus they painted as unaware or dismissive of altruistic motivations and values held by employees and customers.  Millenials, on the other hand, declare as being motivated more by purpose and people than profit and feel that they have better communications skills, in particular online. Millenials are very focused both on their own perceived creativity and on the perceived lack of creativity of other generations preceding them. The result is their frustration in not having the freedom to demonstrate their creative worth to employers and feeling held back from progressing as rapidly as they deserve in their careers. This, in turn, results in the stated intention of most Millenials to seek a new employer in the next few years, with almost half wanting to move on within two years of being appointed.

I’d argue that the stereotypes of older leaders are wrong in many cases and possibly create a range of problems for both Millenials and the workforce in general. Can it really be true that all older leaders are autocratic figures that believe in strict hierarchies and discourage interaction and flexibility? Infact, Gen X  leaders have been educated in management theory that places great value on effective communication and transformational leadership as key in building effective business.

There is a backlash against policies and procedures being too important in leadership but is this not a case of confusing management (which I’d say does need policies and procedures) and leadership, which is more about vision and direction. Importantly, is it not important for work to be guided by effective procedures? Although Millenials see themselves as being more ‘creative’, many define creativity narrowly as something to do with technology or providing ever easier access to information. This emphasis results in many similar ‘innovations’ rather than a range of creative ideas that then go through a process of development.

There is no doubt that Millenials possess fantastic skills and energy, in common with other generations before them. New ways of doing things have emerged alongside the advent of Generation Y, for example more collaborative working and ‘disruptive’ methods. However, it is important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Millenials cannot lay claim to being any more original than previous generations. They may need to acknowledge their own shortcomings, for example in critical thinking or staying power. It may be that many areas of work cannot convert to the Millenial Way and the unstructured nature of it does not result in universal positive outcomes: including for Millenials themselves.

Fundamental change in how work happens should be coupled with an improvement in outcomes for individuals, the economy and society. As Peter Drucker said there needs to be a balance between the objectives of employees and the objectives of an organisation.